Putin’s New Kind of War

Photo Credit: Reuters

Photo Credit: Reuters

In the Western imagination, the words “war” and “invasion” carry clear connotations. From books, movies, and television, we know that such events involve tanks, airplanes, and artillery, as well as soldiers in uniform, advanced weaponry, and sophisticated communications. They look like the invasion of Iraq or, to go back in time, D-Day.

So far, the Russian invasion of eastern Ukraine looks nothing like these battles. This war involves not soldiers but local thugs and volunteers, some linked to the ex-president, Viktor Yanukovych, some from criminal gangs, and some who mistakenly think they are fighting for some form of benign local autonomy.

They are being led not by officers in uniform but by men from Russian military intelligence and special operations forces, some wearing camouflage without insignia, some communicating with “activists” by telephone. They are supplied with Russian logistics and a few Russian automatic weapons, but not tanks or planes. There is no “shock and awe” bombing campaign, just systematic, organized attacks on police stations, city councils, airports.

Unlike the planners of D-Day or Operation Iraqi Freedom, the Russians organizing the invasion of Ukraine also have flexible goals. They are prepared to adjust their strategy, depending on how much resistance they encounter. In the long term, Russia clearly hopes to annex eastern and southern Ukraine; maps to that effect have begun to circulate.

But in the meantime, the Kremlin may settle for disrupting Ukraine’s presidential elections, scheduled for May 25, or for destabilizing Ukraine’s shaky provisional government, perhaps forcing an economic crash. The Russians may hope to provoke a civil war, or something that appears to be a civil war, which would then require a Russian “peacekeeping mission.”

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